Congresswoman-elect Elaine Luria, a Democrat who will represent Virginia’s 2nd District once she is sworn in next month, travelled to Israel this month as part of a five-day educational trip to learn about policy, culture, and issues in the region.
The trip was organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. One of many trips the organization funds each year for lawmakers and staff to experience and learn about the Middle East, this also gave the newly elected lawmakers a chance to bond before they go to work in Washington.
This was Luria’s first trip to Israel. “I had always wanted to go, so I seized this incredible opportunity,” she says.
The five other incoming members of Congress on the trip were Denver Riggleman, a Republican who will represent Virginia’s 5th District, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Dan Crenshaw of Texas, Susie Lee of Nevada, and David Trone of Maryland. The group was comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans. Luria was the only Jewish member.
“From the moment we arrived in Jerusalem, we felt an amazing sense of energy. Everything was so alive,” says Luria. “And, the welcome was so warm.”
The group met with some of Israel’s top leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni, and Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, as well as with religious and civil leaders, and military and intelligence agencies. While in Ramallah on the West Bank, they also met with officials of the Palestinian Authority, including the lead negotiator of the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat.
In a short time, these newly elected representatives managed to travel to the borders of Lebanon and Syria and take aerial tours of the southern borders. They walked through Hamas-built terror tunnels discovered by Israel and learned about the rockets aimed at Israeli towns from Lebanon.
“By seeing all of this, it’s easier to understand and appreciate what’s happening on the ground in Israel,” says Luria.
“I also know that while the in-depth discussions and tours were very enlightening, what I saw and learned really only scratches the surface of the complexity of the situation,” she says.
Near the end of the trip, the group met with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman. With him, they discussed the importance of preserving the U.S.-Israel relationship and the role that relationship plays in helping to maintain the relative peace in the Middle East.
“Israel is our strongest ally in the region,” says Luria. “This trip re-emphasized the need for our continued support for the nation.”
Calling the experience “very insightful,” Luria says she definitely looks forward to returning, perhaps on the next Congressional trip in August.
By Terri Denison